Censorship, or good taste?

January 31 2018

Image of Censorship, or good taste?

Picture: Manchester City Art Gallery

In the UK, Manchester City Art Gallery has removed a painting from display by J W Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, to 'prompt a conversation' about its appropriateness, given the seemingly young age of the nymphs. They've even taken postcards of the picture out of the gallery shop. The Guardian reports:

Clare Gannaway, the gallery’s curator of contemporary art, said the aim of the removal was to provoke debate, not to censor. “It wasn’t about denying the existence of particular artworks.”

The work usually hangs in a room titled In Pursuit of Beauty, which contains late 19th century paintings showing lots of female flesh.

Gannaway said the title was a bad one, as it was male artists pursuing women’s bodies, and paintings that presented the female body as a passive decorative art form or a femme fatale.

“For me personally, there is a sense of embarrassment that we haven’t dealt with it sooner. Our attention has been elsewhere ... we’ve collectively forgotten to look at this space and think about it properly. We want to do something about it now because we have forgotten about it for so long.”

I'm all for prompting conversations about art. But where possible, we should have the conversation in front of the art itself.

The Guardian's art critic Jonathan Jones is unimpressed:

Creativity has never been morally pure. Not so long ago, in the 90s, art was deliberately shocking and some were duly shocked to visit galleries and be shown Myra Hindley, unmade beds and toy Nazis. Now the tables have turned, and it’s cool to be appalled by – in this case – art made over a century ago. I can’t pretend to respect such authoritarianism. It is the just the spectre of an oppressive past wearing new clothes – and if we fall for the disguise we sign away every liberal value.

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